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The big 3 search engines: Why do agents hate them?


Read the comments from REALTORs on any social media website where you see the big real estate search companies advertising and you will experience a rare level of hostility. A recent Facebook advertisement targeted at REALTORs from the biggest of the three sites was titled "Become a Millionaire Real Estate Agent" and had over 100 comments-mostly from agents expressing their hatred toward the company. This post was a spectacle to say the least; most comments focused on inaccurate pricing data, bad leads, or shady business practices in general. 

Inaccurate data and bad leads? Is this why REALTORs loathe these companies? I don't think so. I don't think inaccurate pricing data has interrupted our business much. As professionals, we've always had outsiders putting bad information into the eyes and ears of our buyers and sellers. We've always had to intervene with the facts and realities of buying and selling. We've always had to be the local experts with our boots on the ground bringing order to the chaos.

Going broke on hope

As for bad leads, these companies come from a long lineage of snake oil ... I mean lead re-sellers. Real estate agents need only to be in this business about 10 minutes to learn that there are a hundred and one ways to go broke spending money on hope ... I mean leads. This is not to say that there is no merit to internet leads, but to suggest that you could become a "millionaire real estate agent" with a lead subscription is disingenuous to most experienced agents.

So what is it really, and why all the frustration? I don't think most real estate professionals have had the time to really process why they dislike these companies. They are busy with the task of managing one of the most challenging and rewarding careers in the world. They are busy helping people achieve the American dream, busy being small business owners, and busy providing for their families. 

Who's doing the work?

Are agents wrong for being upset? That's a tough question. On one hand you have a few enterprising companies who have really beat us at our own game. They saw a demand from the consumer to have access to property information at a whole new level and they built a better mousetrap. They were innovative and entrepreneurial, something real estate agents usually appreciate, and they raised truckloads of money. They hired talented people and created momentum, so much momentum it became difficult for the single agent, small brokerage, or big brokerage for that matter to compete. 

On the other hand you have agents building meaningful relationships with buyers and sellers-relationships that take years to cultivate. The agent earns the trust of their customers, they then invest countless hours and dollars earning the privilege to list the property. Let's look at the basics of what goes into listing a property. We take beautiful (and yes, sometimes not-so-beautiful) pictures, create thoughtful descriptions, pay for virtual tours, stage properties, analyze the market for pricing, measure rooms, gather utility and HOA information, and the list goes on and on.

Then after all of the blood, sweat and tears (if you think I'm exaggerating you haven't sold much real estate) the listing gets syndicated to ZRT at relatively little cost to them and they sell the buyer leads to the highest bidder. Yeah, I think that is grounds to be a little pissed off. I do believe they have the right to access the data but I think the scenario lacks equity, to say the least. If you're reading this, I would suggest this is your reason for disliking the big 3. Maybe I'm way off base, and maybe the problem really is inaccurate data or bad leads.

Is there a solution?

So what do real estate professionals do about it? Honestly, I don't know. That's probably not the answer you wanted to hear. At the time of writing this the CEO of one of these companies is meeting with President Barack Obama about housing. They are experiencing record gross revenue, record site traffic, and yet some are still losing money-one company to the tune of 10 million per quarter. Nevertheless, I think they are here to stay in one form or another.

If you think like me the best thing to do is ignore the distractions and chatter. Let them run their TV ads and hire more telemarketers, let them borrow a gazillion dollars. If you don't agree with their business practices don't subscribe to their services. Get involved in your local MLS and find out what their syndication policies are. Develop a strategy on your own or with your company for pushing web traffic to your local site. There is always room for the next big innovation in the home search process. Maybe that innovation will come from you.

Meanwhile, continue helping people with the biggest decision of their lives. Continue to demonstrate the value of hiring a professional to find the perfect home. Remember that the big 3 need us more than we need them, and let that be your solace.

Nathan Froelich is the Co-Founder of BreakthroughBroker.com, where the mission is to provide real estate professionals with insanely simple free tools and information for success. Prior to starting BreakthroughBroker.com, Nathan was a top producing real estate agent and the Broker/Owner of one of Northern Colorado's largest independent real estate firms, which was later acquired by ERA Real Estate. Nathan is still a licensed real estate agent in the state of Colorado.